Has Meghalaya government given up hope for the 13 miners, who got trapped in a 250-meter deep coal mine on December 13?
The National Disaster Response Force's (NDRF) request for at least 10 pumps having 100 horsepower capacity has remained pending for the past nine days, while the state government distributed Rs one lakh each as interim compensation to some of the victim families on Monday.
With the state government yet to send the more powerful pumps, the rescue operation was temporarily suspended on Monday as the two 25 hp pumps could not reduce the 70-feet water level in the coal well, situated about 130-km east of capital Shillong at Ksan near Lytein river in East Jaintia Hills district. Water from the river had sipped in the well and thus the miners got trapped.
"The next step now depends on the government. Based on suggestions of mining expert Jaswant Singh Gill, we had carried out reduced level survey to identify the water entry point and requested the district administration on December 16 to deploy 100 hp pumps as the 25 hp pumps could not reduce the water level. We are still waiting for the pumps," NDRF commandant, S K Shastri, told DH over the phone.
At least 70 NDRF personnel along with those from SDRF are engaged in the rescue operation, which was launched at 7.30am on December 14. "Our personnel are assessing the situation again today to decide what to do next," he said.
The NDRF had used boats, deep divers and sonars but could not locate the coal miners. The deep divers cannot work beyond 30 to 40 feet under water.
On December 16, the Centre had rushed Gill, a mining expert, since he had rescued 65 coal miners in West Bengal 20 years ago. Gill had advised the rescuer mainly to identify the water entry points and use more powerful pumps and accordingly the request was made to the East Khasi Hills district administration.
Chief minister Conrad K Sangma on Sunday said he had requested Coal India Limited to provide the 100 hp water pumps and was still waiting for their reply.
Environmentalist Naba Bhattacharya said the mishap exposed Meghalaya government's failure to enforce the ban imposed by National Green Tribunal on illegal coal mining, in 2014. "Since there is no one to enforce the ban on the ground, coal miners are taking advantage and engaging people to extract coal without any safety measure," he said.
The opposition Congress alleged that the government failed to enforce the NGT ban even as they raised in the Assembly that illegal coal mining was still going on.
Many in Meghalaya questioned why the Centre was yet to act to rescue the miners even as it showed concerns for the footballers, who got trapped in a cave in Thailand.
Amita Sangma, an activist, who was attacked recently by suspected coal miners moved Meghalaya high court recently seeking a CBI investigation. She alleged a nexus of politicians, police and coal miners in the state.